From The Ohio State University College of Medicine Department of Family and Community Medicine, Columbus, OH (Candy Magaña, Jná Báez, Christine Junk, Drs. Ahmad, Conroy, and Olayiwola); The Ohio State University College of Medicine Center for Primary Care Innovation and Transformation (Candy Magaña, Jná Báez, and Dr. Olayiwola); and The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center (Christine Harsh, Erica Esposito).
Much has been discussed about the growing crisis of professional dissatisfaction among physicians, with increasing efforts being made to incorporate physician wellness into health system strategies that move from the Triple to the Quadruple Aim.1 For many years, our health care system has been focused on improving the health of populations, optimizing the patient experience, and reducing the cost of care (Triple Aim). The inclusion of the fourth aim, improving the experience of the teams that deliver care, has become paramount in achieving the other aims.
An area often overlooked in this focus on wellness, however, is the importance of the earliest days of employment to shape and predict long-term career contentment. This is a missed opportunity, as data suggest that organizations with standardized onboarding programs boast a 62% increased productivity rate and a 50% greater retention rate among new hires.2,3 Moreover, a study by the International Institute for Management Development found that businesses lose an estimated $37 billion annually because employees do not fully understand their jobs.4 The report ties losses to “actions taken by employees who have misunderstood or misinterpreted company policies, business processes, job function, or a combination of the three.” Additionally, onboarding programs that focus strictly on technical or functional orientation tasks miss important opportunities for culture integration during the onboarding process.5 It is therefore imperative to look to effective models of employee onboarding to develop systems that position physicians and practices for success.
Challenges With Traditional Physician Onboarding
In recent years, the Department of Family and Community Medicine at The Ohio State University College of Medicine has experienced rapid organizational change. Like many primary care systems nationwide responding to disruption in health care and changing demands on the clinical workforce, the department has hired new leadership, revised strategic priorities, and witnessed an influx of faculty and staff. It has also planned an expansion of ambulatory services that will more than double the clinical workforce over the next 3 years. While an exciting time, there has been a growing need to align strategy, culture, and human capital during these changes.
As we entered this phase of transformation, we recognized that our highly individualized, ad hoc orientation system presented shortcomings. During the act of revamping our physician recruitment process, stakeholder workgroup members specifically noted that improvement efforts were needed regarding new physician orientation, as no consistent structures were previously in place. New physician orientation had been a major gap for years, resulting in dissatisfaction in the first few months of physician practice, early physician turnover, and staff frustration. For physicians, we continued to learn about their frustration and unanswered questions regarding expectations, norms, structures, and processes.
Many new hires were left with a kind of “trial by fire” entry into their roles. On the first day of clinic, a new physician would most likely need to simultaneously see patients, learn the nuances of the electronic health record (EHR), figure out where the break room was located, and quickly learn population health issues for the patients they were serving. Opportunities to meet key clinic site leadership would be at random, and new physicians might not have the opportunity to meet leadership or staff until months into their tenure; this did not allow for a sense of belonging or understanding of the many resources available to them. We learned that the quality of these ad hoc orientations also varied based on the experience and priorities of each practice’s clinic and administrative leaders, who themselves felt ill-equipped to provide a consistent, robust, and confidence-building experience. In addition, practice site management was rarely given advance time to prepare for the arrival of new physicians, which resulted in physicians perceiving practices to be unwelcoming and disorganized. Their first days were often spent with patients in clinic with no structured orientation and without understanding workflows or having systems practice knowledge.
Institutionally, the interview process satisfied some transfer of knowledge, but we were unclear of what was being consistently shared and understood in the multiple ambulatory locations where our physicians enter practice. More importantly, we knew we were missing a critical opportunity to use orientation to imbue other values of diversity and inclusion, health equity, and operational excellence into the workforce. Based on anecdotal insights from employees and our own review of successful onboarding approaches from other industries, we also knew a more structured welcoming process would predict greater long-term career satisfaction for physicians and create a foundation for providing optimal care for patients when clinical encounters began.